By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Our state’s capital is home to one of the most humble czars you’ll ever meet. His laid-back demeanor likely stems from the fact that he’s in command of something quite unpretentious.
Known as the “Venti’s Beer Czar,” Jarred Venti has been providing two of Salem’s favorite hangout spots with an amazing lineup of beers and beer-themed events for more than a year and a half now.
When Jarred’s dad, Mike, and uncle, Dino, started their business back in 1996, it was initially branded as Venti’s Bento and was housed in downtown Salem’s historic Reed Opera House. In 2008, the place now known as Venti’s Cafe + Basement Bar moved to a new space across the street and has been wildly successful ever since. Today, bento is still the signature dish, but the menu has increased dramatically — including 10 craft-only beers and ciders.
“Dino was way ahead of the craft beer scene in Salem. He was paying more attention to what was going on in Portland and Eugene. No one in Salem was really paying attention to that,” Jarred says. Dino and his wife Leslie now own both locations.
Venti’s Cafe + Taphouse, which opened in south Salem in 2011, is the bigger location and hosts many fun events, including a huge anniversary celebration every August. Last year, the event was called “Salem’s Amazing Local Exhibition of Microbrews (SALEM).” All 24 of the taps were taken over by Salem beer and cider.
As beer czar, Jarred helps put together these kinds of festivities, including tap takeovers, Beer Geek trainings and Craft Brewed Concerts. Since October 2013, Jarred has also been fully in charge of ordering beer for both locations, including around 100 bottled beers at the Taphouse, and about half that at the Basement Bar. When it comes to beer, he makes all the final decisions — just like any czar would.
So, how does one obtain such a regal title? In Jarred’s case, it’s kind of something he just fell into. “The beer czar at the time, Matt Killikelly, was also starting up Santiam Brewing with his partners. He had a lot going on, so they were looking for someone to come in and help out a couple days a week. One day a week became two days a week, became three days a week, became four days a week … Almost a year into it, Matt decided he needed to devote himself full time to Santiam Brewing, so I had to step up and fill some pretty big shoes. And I’ve been immersed in the craft beer scene ever since.”
When Jarred isn’t busy being a commander of beer, he is a member of not one, not two, but three bands. If you think that’s impressive, you’ll find it hard to believe he was involved with six or seven bands a year ago. His current lineup includes playing bass for Rich McCloud, providing bass and vocals for Magical Mystery Four (a Beatles tribute band) and bass and vocals for Still Water Vibes.
While Jarred tries to divide his attention equally among the three bands, Still Water Vibes has been keeping him the busiest lately since their debut album came out at the end of May. “We call ourselves a blues band, but it’s really also heavily influenced by funk and soul music … and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Just like how Venti’s started as a family affair, so did Jarred’s passion for music at the age of 14. “We have a lot of musicians in my family, my uncle Mario is an amazing piano player, and his son Josh, my cousin, is an amazing bass player. He’s sort of the inspiration for me picking up the bass.”
Although Venti’s is well known for its live music, you won’t find Jarred playing there too often — but he’s happy to let other artists take center stage. “Andrew (Hussey) books the music there, and he always does a good job at bringing in a lot of great out-of-town bands, which I think is awesome.”
Hussey books the musical acts for the Taphouse’s Craft Brewed Concerts, and Jarred chooses a beer pairing. “I usually try to arrange a special tapping of some sort to coincide with the music. It’s a cool way to bring live music and craft beer together.” A recent evening featured the video game sounds of Emulator combined with eight space-themed beers.
The Taphouse also hosts Lounge Nights, in which two of Jarred’s good friends, Nathan Olsen and John Pounds, play keyboard and bass during the opening set and then allow any and all singers to join in. “They’re both incredible musicians. The best at what they do in the area, for sure. We’re really lucky to have them come down every Tuesday.”
Aside from hanging out at Venti’s, you’ll likely find Jarred playing shows at Salem’s Vagabond Brewing, Half Penny Bar and Grill or Duffy’s Hangar, where he even hosts a monthly jam session. “I know a ton of musicians, and it’s a cool way for me to bring everyone together in one spot and just play music together.” All artists, regardless of skill level, are welcome to join.
If he ever needs some extra help warming up for his night gig, the beer czar likes to keep it local. “When I play at Vagabond, I always try something new. Every time I play at Half Penny, I’m drinking Hop Penny from Salem Ale Works (an Irish red only available in-house). When I play at Duffy’s, I like to drink Gilgamesh Vader (a coffee CDA).”
“I’m just super proud of Salem. We’re finally starting to get a beer scene down here. It seems like every day something new is opening up. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
This is one czar who is definitely all about his people. He’s the true definition of what a leader should be: he’s passionate about what he does, he supports his community as much as possible and he makes a valiant effort to bring everyone together. Oh, and he supplies the masses with funky music and tasty beer. All hail Jarred Venti!
Cafe + Basement Bar
[a] 325 Court St. NE, Salem
Cafe + Taphouse
[a] 2840 Commercial St. SE, Salem
By Sarah Mason
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Four Salem breweries have made it their mission to quench the thirst for craft beer in Oregon’s capital.
Together, the founders of Gilgamesh Brewing, Salem Ale Works, Santiam Brewing and Vagabond Brewing formed the Salem Brewery Association, a nonprofit focused on fermenting the state capital’s craft-beer culture.
Their motto, “Drink Salem Beer,” is a call to action urging the enjoyment of Salem beer, Salem craft breweries and ultimately the Salem community. For a long time, Oregon beer has left a good taste in the mouths of beer drinkers. But Salem has gone unnoticed among many fans of craft.
“Oregon is hands down the best craft brewing state there is, so it’s kind of strange that the capital has been neglected so far,” said Alvin Klausen from Vagabond.
If this is true, then why has such little attention been paid to one of Oregon’s most important cities?
“Salem has been overlooked as anywhere to consider when seeking out craft beer, even by those living here,” said Jake Bonham, the association's new president and co-owner of Salem Ale Works.
In recent years, Salem’s craft beer scene has started to bubble up, and the Salem Brewery Association is encouraging Oregon beer drinkers to reconsider Salem.
“I think what’s happened over the last seven years is that Salem has started to develop a craft beer scene,” Klausen said. “A few Salem-based breweries have formed, and we want to raise awareness about it.”
Other than McMenamins and RAM Restaurant & Brewery, Gilgamesh is the oldest brewery out of the new crop in Salem at four years old. Compared to other beer scenes throughout the state, Salem is young.
“Salem beer is so far behind,” Klausen said. “Eugene has Ninkasi, which is eight and Steelhead, which is much older. Portland has Widmer, which is 20 or 30 years old now and Rogue, on the Coast, is pushing 30 years. Then in Salem our oldest is only four! We just want to bring awareness to our beautiful craft beer.”
One thing that sets the Salem Brewery Association apart from others like it in the state is that it is centrally located, making access to other metro areas relatively easy.
“Other than the fact that our beer is really awesome, we are incredibly centrally located for the population of Oregon,” Klausen said. “We are an hour south of Portland, an hour north of Eugene, an hour from the coast and a couple hours to Bend.”
In addition, all four breweries are located within miles of one another and use their small selection to their advantage.
“I think we are a very eclectic group,” Klausen said. “Between all of the breweries, we have very different styles. And this is kind of a weird thing, but the lack of craft brews is kind of cool. There are only our four choices right now, so people can hit up all four of them in the city pretty easily.”
The comradery between the breweries is also unique. Because the four breweries are all fairly new, they are experiencing the ups and downs of the industry together. They have all shared information and been supportive of one another.
“We share ideas and help each other out when needed,” Bonham said. “We all realize that we own independent businesses in the same industry, so there is the reality of that. But certainly we get along and are supportive of each other and cross promote when it makes sense.”
“We are hoping that working together to create more of a culture in Salem will raise everybody,” Klausen said. “A rising tide raises all ships. We want to work together to create that for Salem.”
The association has a few ideas in the works, such as organizing festivals and tap takeovers in Salem and other cities as well as sponsoring events in the city.
“I think if they give us a try, we will grow just like the other cities did in Oregon,” Klausen said.
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